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Ramsey Backs Texas Gov. Perry for President

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Aug. 10, 2011:

(Nashville) – Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Tennessee) today issued a strong statement of support for Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) after attending a private meeting with the governor in San Antonio. Gov. Perry is widely believed to be exploring a run for President with an announcement likely in the next few weeks.

“With the stakes this high, I don’t think any of us have the luxury of standing on the sidelines in the upcoming election,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “Our country is at the edge of a precipice. We can either allow President Obama to drive us into the abyss or we can stand our ground and take our country back. I believe Gov. Perry to be the man best suited to lead this fight. If the governor sees fit to make the decision many expect him to, I let him know today that I’ll be there to support him in any way I can.”

Lt. Gov. Ramsey cited not only Perry’s strong support for the 10th Amendment but also his stunning record of economic success as the reasons for his early and enthusiastic support.  “Even Gov. Perry’s detractors concede that the economic success of Texas throughout the Obama Recession has been nothing short of miraculous,” stated Ramsey. “Slice the numbers anyway you like, Gov. Perry’s record in Texas doesn’t lie. I’m eager to see Gov Perry’s Texas recipe for economic growth served up to the entire nation.”

“I think Gov. Perry understands the stakes in this election and welcomes the challenge. He has a long and proven track record of winning elections while at the same time sticking to his principles. His leadership in Texas has been the embodiment of constitutional conservative governance in action. I’m proud to stand behind him.”

Lt. Gov. Ramsey was also candid in dismissing criticism, leveled by potential rival campaigns, that Gov. Perry is unfit to carry the conservative banner because of his involvement in the 1988 Presidential campaign of Al Gore.

“That’s just silly. The Al Gore of 1988 wasn’t the Al Gore of today or even the Al Gore of 2000. Al Gore is a political chameleon and back in the eighties he was doing every thing he could to convince conservatives that he was their representative in the Democratic Party.”

“The true conservatives in the Democratic Party were the first to see Al Gore was a fraud and came to terms with the fact that that the Democratic Party of their fathers was no more. Rick Perry was one of those Democrats.”

“Let’s remember, Ronald Reagan was a Democrat once upon a time. Now he’s a conservative hero to millions of Republicans. Look at Gov. Perry’s record since 1990. Is it more Al Gore or more Ronald Reagan? The man’s record speaks for itself.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the first GOP Senate Speaker in Tennessee in 140 years, has been named “The Best Lawmaker for Business in Tennessee” by Business Tennessee magazine for his success in passing pro-growth policy to improve the state’s business climate.

In the 2008 elections, which saw Republicans suffer major losses across the country, Ramsey led Tennessee’s Republicans to a gain of three Senate seats and a solid five seat majority. Lt. Governor Ramsey became the longest-serving Republican Senate Speaker in Tennessee history in 2009 and was elected to a third term as Speaker in 2011.

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Dems’ Jackson Day Dinner to Commemorate Gov. McWherter

Maybe they will begin calling them “McWherter Day” dinners.

The Tennessee Democratic Party has announced that its state Jackson Day dinner in Nashville will be Oct. 1 and will celebrate the life of Gov. Ned Ray McWherter, who died this year on April 4.

Respect for McWherter and his place in the state party’s history since his death seem only to have grown among the Democrats, who are beginning to portray him as one of their most revered historical figures.

In a message to Democrats on the party’s official website, state party chairman Chip Forrester says, “As we work together to rebuild Tennessee and restore the American Dream for our children, our families and communities, we would do well by the next generation in fighting for the same values Gov. McWherter fought for: fairness, dignity and responsibility — for all.”

McWherter’s memorial service in Nashville drew former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, as well as prominent Republicans, including three former Republican governors of the state and GOP icon former Sen. Howard Baker.

The Democratic Party’s website home page, in addition to a prominent announcement of the tribute, features photos of McWherter with figures as varied as Clinton, Gore, former Gov. Phil Bredesen and University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who defeated McWherter’s son, Mike, in the gubernatorial race in 2010, took the highly unusual step in a campaign ad of referring to Ned McWherter and Bredesen, both Democrats, as among the state’s outstanding leaders.

Ned McWherter, from Dresden in Weakley County, was governor from 1987-95 after serving 14 years as speaker of the House. He was noted for his efforts at education reform, including a revamped funding mechanism for schools and annual school report cards in the state. McWherter also ushered in TennCare, a new system for Medicaid, which has since become a troubled, controversial experiment.

McWherter was honored with the unveiling of a statue on the town square in Dresden in October 2010.

The Democrats’ annual Jackson Day dinner is named for former President Andrew Jackson, considered one of the founders of the Democratic Party.

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News

Larger than Life

Former President Bill Clinton probably summed up the way most people felt about Gov. Ned Ray McWherter in a memorial service Saturday at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.

“Whenever I talked to him, he made me feel good,” Clinton said. “I was kind of excitable. He would calm me down. If I was low, he would lift me up.”

There were moments of laughter and moments of tears in the service, but above all there was an unmistakable swell of love for McWherter, who died on Monday at age 80.

The service Saturday drew a power-packed line-up of state dignitaries, but the message was on the compassion in the man who looked after people who lacked power or wealth or fame. A separate service is scheduled for Sunday in Dresden, McWherter’s hometown.

McWherter served Tennessee as governor 1987-95, and there were frequent references Saturday to his skillful days as speaker of the House for 14 years before becoming governor.

Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, who sat side-by-side during the service, each spoke of McWherter’s connection to ordinary people and his care for those who, like himself, came from humble beginnings in a rural part of the state. Descriptions of life in Weakley County were frequent throughout the ceremony.

The gathering of political dignitaries — past and present, Democratic and Republican — included Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, former U.S. Sens. Howard Baker, Jim Sasser and Harlan Mathews and former governors Phil Bredesen, Don Sundquist and Winfield Dunn.

McWherter was a Democrat, but on Saturday there was little mention of political parties.

Mike McWherter, his son, who was the Democratic nominee in the race last year against Haslam, gave a eulogy and began by picking up a gavel from a small table in front of the podium and banging it. He recalled how his father used to let him do that when he was speaker.

Gore picked up on the small-town theme quickly, noting that references to McWherter being born in tiny Palmersville instead should be described as “greater Palmersville.”

“That little community was something that shaped Ned profoundly,” Gore said. “He told stories about it all through his political campaigns. He said, ‘I played with a little white pig until I was 18. It was the only toy I had.’

“The Memphis Commercial Appeal said if that story wasn’t exactly true at least it was genuine.”

Gore made a point to mention the presence of legislators in the auditorium, including Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, who looked up to McWherter.

“There is a large family of people, especially in the Legislature — Speaker Naifeh and so many others — who really felt like family to Ned McWherter, and to all of you we are here in support of those ties and to honor what he meant to you and what you meant to him,” Gore said.

Clinton described how McWherter nudged Clinton and Gore to get together for the presidential ticket that won in 1992. Gore had just decided not to run for the White House.

Clinton recalled that McWherter said, “If Albert had run, he would have beat you. But you’re my neighbor, and I like you, and I will be for you.”

Clinton said McWherter told him, “I’m telling you, you would be a good team. He’s smarter than you are. He knows more about everything than you do, and your line of B.S. is better than his.”

Clinton also joked about his first impression of McWherter, who was as hefty physically as politically.

“I saw that body, and I thought, my God, the Grand Ole Opry’s got its very own Buddha,” Clinton said.

But Clinton quickly learned about McWherter’s political persuasiveness.

“The first time I met Ned Ray McWherter, after 30 seconds of that aw-shucks routine, I wanted to reach in my back pocket and make sure my billfold was still there. After a minute, I was ready to give him my billfold,” Clinton said.

Clinton called McWherter a “fabulous politician” and noted that McWherter had helped him carry Tennessee in presidential elections in 1992 and 1996 and supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 when she won the state’s primary. Clinton said that in his family McWherter could do no wrong.

The service included music from the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Former McWherter aide Billy Stair spoke movingly about McWherter’s work and drew heavily from the unveiling of a statue of McWherter in Dresden last October. The program Saturday included remarks from former McWherter chief of staff David Gregory.

At times, especially before the service, the auditorium had much the feel of a family reunion.

“He saw politics as a profession with a purpose,” Gore said. “He wasn’t in it for some ideology or philosophy. He was in it to help the people who were in the kind of circumstances he was in when he was growing up.”

Clinton described McWherter out of friendship, not just as a political colleague.

“Above all, he was a friend,” Clinton said. “Above all, to the people of Tennessee he was a friend. We’re here laughing and wanting to cry because we know he was special. He was great because he didn’t think the Democrats were right all the time, and he knew Republicans couldn’t be wrong all the time.”

Clinton closed on a note of the season.

“I think God knew what he was doing when he called him home in the springtime,” Clinton said. “In the springtime, we’re all reminded of how beautiful our earth is and how great it smells and how one more time we’ve been invited to make a new beginning.

“I hope the young people of Tennessee will wind up making enough new beginnings, so we’ll have more Ned Ray McWherters. He graced us in a way few people have, not just because of all he did, but because he was our friend.”

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Superkids Waiting

Look! Look! Up on the screen!

A lot of lawmakers at the Tennessee Capitol think teachers’ unions are at least partly responsible for a lot that’s wrong with public education. And now they’ve got a movie to prove it.

More than a dozen members of the state Senate and House of Representatives sat in on a special matinee viewing of the 2010 film Waiting for ‘Superman’ in a Legislative Plaza hearing room one afternoon earlier this month. The screening was organized by Germantown Senate Republican Brian Kelsey and the film’s producers, who’ve shown the award-winning documentary to policymakers and education reform groups around the country.

Republican and Democrats alike who watched the movie all said afterward that they’re troubled by the state of education in America generally, and in Tennessee particularly. The film, they said, strengthened their resolve to effect positive change that is “about children, not adults,” a theme central to Waiting for ‘Superman’.

Another Inconvenient Truth

Released on DVD just last week, Waiting for ‘Superman’ follows the plight of several students and their families as they try to escape floundering public school systems by gaining entrance and new opportunities in more successful charter schools.

It is directed and narrated by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed the Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, a film credited both with dramatically raising the public’s alarm over global warming and bestowing environmentalist sainthood on Al Gore, Jr.

Waiting for ‘Superman’ takes its title from a comment made early on by one of its main figures, a successful charter-school founder in New York named Geoffrey Canada.

“One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist, because even in the depths of the ghetto, you just thought he was coming,” recalls Canada, who grew up in the South Bronx. “She thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.”

Wanna Be Your Superhero

Memphis Democrats John DeBerry, Jr. and Lois DeBerry (no relation) were among those who attended the screening of the film in Nashville. Both indicated they found it provocative and moving.

During a panel discussion on the the film and its lessons for Tennessee, Lois DeBerry, the former Tennessee House speaker pro tem of 24 years — the first African-American woman ever to win that post — became too emotional to speak and had to temporarily withhold her remarks until she collected herself.

“In 2011, I just can’t believe that we’re no further along in educating our children,” she said a while later. “Our children deserve better than this. And as Tennesseans, we can do better than this.”

Lois DeBerry’s obvious frustration, sadness and anger, said Rep. John DeBerry, are feelings shared by most who care deeply about the plight of children, particularly poor children, in failing American schools. “Many of our hearts are broken by what we see happening to many of our children, especially in urban areas,” he said.

“I think that basically we have been in denial in urban areas. For too long we’ve kind of put our head in the ground, and refused to take the bitter pill that there are some drastic and immediate changes that have to be taken,” he added.

DeBerry, Jr. spoke of a “a big pile of money” in public education, and of the many adults eying it, intent on acquiring or controlling how it gets spent. But the providers of education services are not, he said, “as important as the end product.”

“That end product is a student who can think, who can read, who can reason and who can perform in today’s world,” said DeBerry. “The rest of the world is, excuse the expression, kicking our butts, with a whole lot less money, because their education systems look at the child — at the recipient and not the provider. We’ve got too much attention on the providers, and not enough on the recipient.”

Added Lois DeBerry: “Children are waiting for a Superwoman and a Superman, without politics. They are waiting to be educated.”

“You ask me why charter schools are good for Tennessee? It’s because of what we saw in that film,” she said. “Because our kids, all of our kids, no matter where they come from, deserve the very best education that we can give them. And God is going to hold us responsible if we don’t do it.”

Reform Eradicators

Waiting for ‘Superman’ isn’t just about charter schools. It also analyzes the role teachers’ unions play in American schools. And they come off as an obstinate force of obstruction, fundamentally hardwired to resist innovation and experimentation that potentially threatens the status quo.

The movie leaves the audience with the impression that teachers’ unions at minimum hold dual and conflicting loyalties. Union leaders say they have the best interest of students at heart. But oftentimes, the film argues, unions use their considerable political muscle to protect sub-par teachers from professional competition — or even from having to meet basic, on-the-job performance criteria as a condition of continued employment, an otherwise commonplace reality in private-sector working environments.

The system of teacher tenure, for example, is alleged by many who speak in the film to be a nearly impassible roadblock to reforming failing schools.

“In universities, professors are only granted tenure after many years of teaching, and a grueling vetting process, and many don’t receive it,” narrates Guggenheim. “But for public school teachers, tenure has become automatic.”

Geoffrey Canada says in one scene, “You can get tenure basically if you continue to breathe for two years. You get it.”

“And whether or not you can help children is totally irrelevant,” he adds. “Once you get tenure we cannot get rid of you. Almost no matter what you do, you are there for life, even if it is proven you are a lousy teacher.”

Some of Tennessee’s most powerful GOP education-oversight lawmakers are vocal advocates of lessening teachers’ union influence in education policy discussions. And a common sentiment expressed by them after watching the film was that no “sacred cow” will stand in the way of their reform proposals this session.

The nation is watching Tennessee as a result of the state winning more than $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” funding last year, said Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. That means bold steps are necessary, both to prove the state is serious about reform, and to enact solutions to problems that others around the country can look to emulate, she said.

Gresham said Waiting for ‘Superman”s portrayal of teachers’ unions as an impediment to education reform rings true to her. It naturally follows that undermining what gives unions their power is key to limiting their capacity to disrupt or thwart brave new initiatives, she said.

“The issue of collective bargaining has to be met head-on, and for many of the reasons that we saw in this film,” said Gresham.

Kryptonite Sold Here

Teachers’ unions and their supporters have denounced Waiting for ‘Superman’.

The National Education Association has even set up a special resources page of anti-Superman criticism.

Waiting for ‘Superman’, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, “demonizes public education, teachers unions, and, unfortunately, teachers.”

“Nowhere in the film or its discussion have teachers’ voices been heard,” said Van Roekel. “If you want to know how to make a public school great, ask a teacher, not Hollywood.”

And as with An Inconvenient Truth, the integrity of Guggenheim’s latest offering has been called into question by the film’s detractors.

Waiting for ‘Superman’ is merely “a slick marketing piece full of half-truths and distortions,” said a Huffington Post reviewer. “It rejects the inconvenient truth that our schools are being starved of funds and other necessary resources, and instead opts for an era of privatization and market-driven school change.”

Another professor, Diane Ravitch, an education policy researcher at New York University with ties to the center-left Brookings Institution, wrote in the New York Times last month that Waiting for ‘Superman’ may indeed represent “the most important public-relations coup that the critics of public education have made so far.” And she acknowledged that the film is “a powerful weapon on behalf of those championing the ‘free market’ and privatization” in the “clash of ideas occurring in education right now.”

But she claims the film is more the stuff of “right-wing” fantasy than responsible documentary.

“The movie asserts a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false,” wrote Ravitch.

“(W)hile teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers,” she continued. “Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.”

Ravitch’s conclusion is that expanding market-style competition in America’s public education systems could produce disastrous results. “The stock market crash of 2008 should suffice to remind us that the managers of the private sector do not have a monopoly on success,” she wrote.

A Legislative Locomotive

The Tennessee Education Association says the GOP’s push to undermine unions this session is rooted in a desire for “political payback” stemming from the TEA’s admitted preference for Democrats when disbursing union political contributions. And to that end, Republicans have proposed ending automatic payroll deductions of government employees’ union dues, which could over time have the effect of drying up a lot of the TEA’s own financial support.

But there’s more to this political beef than campaign cash. Many Republicans blame unions for much of what ails inner city public schools. GOP lawmakers suggest unions have willfully perpetuated failing education systems, which has exacerbated urban poverty and social dysfunction, which in turn undermines the ability of families, neighborhoods and communities to promote and sustain institutions of educational excellence.

“Teachers’ unions have had this death-grip, this ‘let’s-stop-everything’ mentality. And look at where it has gotten us. We are in the cellar not just in the nation, but in the world as far as developed countries’ systems go,” said Knoxville GOP Sen. Stacey Campfield. “The teachers’ unions say, ‘Just leave things the way they are and somehow things will magically change.’ Well, it is not going to change. We have to make changes if we want to see the situation change.”

“The time is now, and if the union doesn’t want to be a pat of it, well then I’m sorry, but maybe they have to be put aside a little bit,” said Campfield, a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Kelsey, who also serves on the Senate Education Committee, is — along with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville — sponsoring school-voucher legislation this year called the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act.”

Kelsey, Ramsey and many other Republicans — as well as a few Democrats — also support expanding the number and role of charter schools in Tennessee, including in the state-controlled “achievement district” that will likely include a number of failing Memphis schools. Finally, there appears to be broad GOP support for making it more difficult for a teacher to earn and maintain tenure, and for prohibiting local school districts from collectively bargaining with teachers’ unions.

Kelsey maintains that his intention for organizing the Waiting for ‘Superman’ screening for lawmakers was not to denigrate teachers in general. In fact, the opposite is true, said Kelsey: He wanted to inspire lawmakers to propose and support reforms that reward teachers who embrace the challenge of producing better educational results.

“Our research has shown us that having a great teacher in the classroom is the No. 1 way to improve education,” Kelsey said. “And in fact, we undervalue great teachers.

“On the other hand, often, very often — and we have seen this in Tennessee — teachers’ unions are holding us back from educating children,” said Kelsey.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey said the political fact on the floors of both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature is that the GOP is going to drive the debate and agenda on education reform this session. That agenda will involve expanding school choice and forcing education providers to compete for taxpayer dollars, he said.

“I’m a big proponent of competition,” said Ramsey. “That’s the reason I think charter schools are a good way to go. I do think that these scholarships that we are talking about in those failing schools to allow parents to take their money and allow for competition…is a step in the right direction.

“There’s not one magic bullet, I think this film pointed that out. It’s a combination of a lot of things that can improve school systems.”

And Republicans are keenly aware that they couldn’t really ask for a friendlier legislative climate for enacting their favored programs and initiatives, he said.

“The spotlight is on us,” said Ramsey. “In the past we may have used excuses that bills were killed in some committees in the House, or that the governor wouldn’t sign a bill. Republicans, for the first time in the history of this state, have the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate and the governorship. We can’t make excuses any longer, and I think that the time is right, right now, to reform education in Tennessee.”